WASHINGTON — When U.S. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez sits down to share his experiences for Historias, an initiative unveiled Thursday to record the stories of Latinos in America, the San Antonio Democrat is going to compare how he, his father — the legendary late Rep. Henry B. Gonzalez — and his grandparents assimilated in America.
When the younger Gonzalez’s grandparents emigrated from Mexico around 1910, they initially planned on returning, he said at the debut of Historias, a project of StoryCorps, a nonprofit oral history group that records stories of everyday Americans.
“I want to talk about how my father sought that more complete assimilation and the obstacles he had to face and his generation’s contribution to allowing me to do what I do today,” Gonzalez said.
StoryCorps officially launched Historias, which will be archived at the Library of Congress, at a ceremony that featured talks by, among others, House members of Latino descent.
Speakers praised the project and StoryCorps’ past efforts, saying that the stories of everyday people preserve the American experience and that the new initiative offers the often-ignored Latino community a chance to participate.
“We believe that much of what we have contributed and what we continue to contribute — if it is found in whatever history, oral or otherwise — is a footnote,” Gonzalez said. “I think this goes a long way to remedy that situation.”
Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif., spoke about how two recent projects on World War II — Ken Burns’ documentary “The War” and Tom Brokaw’s book “The Greatest Generation” — did not include much about Latinos, a trend that Becerra has noticed since he was young.
“I think Historias does something very important for us: It tells us who we are,” Becerra said.
Rep. Jose Serrano, D-N.Y., spoke of how his immigrant father responded to a friend’s comment that he was lucky to have successful children.
“My father, in the most wonderful broken English, said, ‘I busted my back to get lucky,’” Serrano said.
It is necessary to gather the stories of as many everyday Latinos as possible, Gonzalez said.
“An untold history makes for an incomplete history and thus an incomplete lesson,” he said.
“It’s a lesson for all of us, for those who have been here for many years to appreciate the contribution made by others, but also for the new arrivals because there will always be new arrivals in this country,” Gonzalez said after the event. “I think it’s going to be a source of inspiration, and lessons will be learned that will benefit all Americans.”
Recordings for Historias will take place in more than 20 cities across America during the next year.
The project will record oral histories in Texas, starting with Austin and Houston in November, Brownsville in May and San Antonio in June.
Those interested in participating in the project can call StoryCorps at (800) 850-4406.
By Drew Joseph – Hearst Newspapers